Living in Dominion’s Sacrifice Zones


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     photo NelsonProperty_zps60ea7b58.jpgAt the end of a country lane in Nelson County, Virgiinia, you will find one of Dominion’s sacrifice zones.   Approaching the home , built in 1904, there are acre upon acre of fertile rolling pasture; in the background, you see only steep mountain slopes. The views are commonplace in this area, but are breathtaking still.  The 400-acre property is owned by John Ed Purvis and his wife, Ruth.  John Ed has lived in Nelson his entire life on this farm with the exception of the four years he spent in the Air Force.  His wife Ruth grew up in Nelson too…in the Tyro and Roseland areas of Nelson County. He and Ruth married in 1954 and will celebrate their 61st anniversary in February.  They have four children, and they both worked outside the home, while farming the land, and raising their family.

    John Ed is the seventh generation of his family to own and farm this land.  He has traced his ancestry back to 1739 when 3 Purvis brothers arrived in America from England.  One of those brothers, George Purvis, settled in Nelson County in 1768, the  beginning of the line which begat John Ed Purvis.  The Purvis’ have had a good life here.  John Ed and Ruth are good neighbors and friends.  John Ed has been known to show up on one of his big tractors at a neighbor’s home after a big snowfall, plow the drive, and leave quietly acknowledging his neighbor’s thank you with a smile and a slight wave of his hand. He served on the Nelson County School Board for 18 years.  Ruth spent 20 years as a secretary in various positions including a stint in a Veterans Affairs office while John Ed was serving our country, and later in the Nelson County Circuit Court Clerk’s office.

    John Ed and Ruth, just as their ancestors were, have been good stewards of the land, raising cattle, growing hay and harvesting timber.  One day last May, John Ed and Ruth received a certified letter from Dominion Resources telling them a pipeline was coming through.  Dominion needed to survey the Purvis farm because it wanted to construct its 42″ natural gas pipeline on their family farm.  John Ed and Ruth were surprised like other Nelsonians and were even more surprised when they learned about a law the Virginia General Assembly passed.  “This law they passed in Richmond in 2004 alllowing survey without permission isn’t right.  It has gotten everybody riled up,” he stated.   He continued, “Eminent domain is for building schools and roads–things that benefit the community.” The couple is keenly aware they and other landowners, nor the community will receive any benefit from Dominion’s attempted land grab to build its pipeline.  

     photo JohnEdandRuthPurvis_zps3a24e18c.jpgThey decided they would refuse to allow Dominion access to their property to survey,  and jokingly remarked, “We’ve got access to a lot of legal advice,” referring to one of his sons who is a lawyer, and a daughter-in-law who is a judge.  They have had Dominion up at the house twice.  John Ed doesn’t believe what Dominion tells them because he gets different answers to the same question from different Dominion representatives.  He says, “Dominion hasn’t sued us yet.” But the couple fully expects a law suit to come any day now. John Ed states quite clearly, “I don’t plan to allow surveying of my property, nor do I plan to have the pipeline cross my property.  I have no plans to negotiate with Dominion.”

    His daughter, Elizabeth Purvis Shepard, said recently in a letter to the editor she wrote to the Nelson County Times,  “It breaks my heart that his (her father’s) final years must be spent fighting a multimillion dollar corporation for his own land rights, or worse yet, that he may actually have to watch the destruction of his property when, heaven forbid, the pipeline is laid.”. The family is pretty dismayed both John Ed and Ruth and his ancestors owned the land, worked the land, paid taxes on the land for about 200 years, and out of the blue, a for-profit corporation can just mail them a letter and say, we want your land for our pipeline. They estimate if Dominion prevails, the pipeline will cross about two-and-a-half miles of their 400 acres and then he shares, “We’ll still have to pay taxes on it.  The cows will still be able to graze, if it is done.  But the timber, the timber will be gone forever.”

    The Purvis’ will be required to live in Dominion’s sacrifice zone, a 1,100 foot area which is known as a high hazard zone should the pipeline, if ever built, explode.   As we bid him goodbye, he stood on the front porch, pointed toward a grove of trees in the distance and said, “The family cemetery is down there, between those two big cedar trees.  It has chain link fence around it. Not sure what will happen to that either if this pipeline comes through.”


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